When the iPhone X was released back in 2017, Apple officially dropped the home button in favor of something called gesture-based navigation. Now since then, they’ve still included home buttons on lower-cost iPhones like the 8, 8 Plus, and SE. But it’s clear that the home button’s days are numbered. And this major change has made many people feel confused and even a little uncomfortable. I mean, the home button has been around since the original iPhone over a decade ago, and users have become so familiar with its functionality that interacting with the home button has become second nature for most people. So there must be really good reasons for Apple to remove something that their customers have become so familiar with, and thats exactly what I’m going to explain in this article.
Probably the biggest reason why Apple removed the home button, and it has everything to do with space. The bezels on the top and bottom of the iPhone 7 were not only becoming an eyesore since its competition’s bezels were much thinner, but it also limited the size of the iPhone’s display. If there was a home button, there had to be a bezel, and if there was a bezel, that means there wouldn’t be an edge-to-edge display with the kind of impressive screen to body ratio that other Android phones were providing. So by removing that limitation, Apple was able to push the iPhone X’s display all the way to the edge, without substantially increasing the overall size of the device. But removing the home button didn’t only allow for more screen space, it also freed up space internally. Primarily because of the smaller Taptic Engine, which was no longer responsible for simulating the non-mechanical home button’s click. And we’ve learned how much Apple cares about freeing up internal space whenever possible, since they were the first major smartphone manufacturer to remove the headphone jack for that very reason.
But a larger screen and smaller Taptic Engine is only the beginning. By removing the home button, Apple had the opportunity to create an entirely new way for users to interact with their iPhone. And it came in the form of something called gesture-based navigation. Where home button clicks were replaced by swipes to perform various functions. For example, pressing the home button to go back to the home screen was replaced by an upward swipe from the bottom of the display. But introducing something different just for the sake of change, doesn’t necessarily make the user experience better. So what makes navigating the iPhone with swipes better than pressing a home button? Well, some of it can be subjective depending on a users preference, but I think most smartphone users would agree that swipe navigation is faster, more natural, and easier than using a button. And although there is a learning curve, most actions have become much more effortless to perform than before.
For example, navigating to the app switcher used to require a double click on the home button. But beginning with the iPhone X, that changed to a simple swipe and pause gesture. Which is not only faster to perform, but gives users an easy way to cancel the action by swiping down if they change their mind. It also allowed for overlapping actions. If an app is launched, you can actually navigate somewhere else while that app is opening. Like going back to the home screen or accessing the app switcher. This allows the iPhone to respond to a user’s commands faster than ever before.
when it comes to the iPhone’s home button, it was responsible for more than just navigation, it also housed the Touch ID fingerprint reader. That meant Apple needed to introduce a new biometric method of securing your phone. And their solution was Face ID. Now this was one of the most controversial changes made to the iPhone X, partly because of the notch, which was required to house all the Face ID sensors, but mainly because people said they’d prefer using a fingerprint reader to unlock their phones. But public opinion on Face ID has changed a lot since its original release. Today, most users appreciate the speed and convenience of using a form of biometric security that requires virtually zero input. All you have to do to unlock your iPhone is look at. Something that most people do anywhere when waking their devices. Whereas touch ID required the deliberate action of resting your thumb on the home button.
Not to mention it wasn’t as secure or reliable as Face ID. But still, many people wondered why Apple didn’t keep touch ID as a secondary form of security. Maybe they could’ve moved the sensor to the back of the phone like many Android devices, or perhaps they could’ve adopted an ultrasonic fingerprint scanner that can be housed behind the display. In both of those cases, the iPhone X could still have an edge-to-edge display and retain Face ID if that’s what the user preferred. But what most people don’t recognize is that by not removing Touch ID, it would’ve likely sabotaged the adoption of FaceID. And maybe that wouldn’t be an issue if it’s only purpose was unlocking your phone. But FaceID does more than that. It’s what enables any advanced face tracking feature like Animoji, and it allows for capabilities like notification previews, which reveals the content of a notification when the user simply looks at their device. Also, offering two different forms of biometrics would complicate many aspects of the platform. Would customers be required to set up both Touch ID and Face ID? If not, what would happen if an app required one form of biometrics that the customer didn’t enable?
And if developers are required to support both Touch ID and Face ID, wouldn’t that make app creation a more time-consuming and convoluted process? Those questions may sound like an exaggeration, but Apple is very sensitive to fragmentation of any kind. Whether it comes to operating systems, software, or hardware. And focusing on one great way to secure your device, would make things much simpler for users and developers in the long run. Now, there is one last reason why I think Apple removed the home button, and it has to do with the original iPhone back in 2007. When it was released, touch-based devices were a very foreign concept to people. Although the touch screen had already been invented, it was never really used in such a prominent way as with the iPhone.
And for that reason, Apple deliberately create a skeuomorphic user interface that imitated real-life objects. The calendar app look like a calendar, the notes app looked like a lined notepad, and buttons were given reflections and shadows to imply that the user could simply tap them. And having a persistent physical button that would return the user to their home screen from anywhere, was a crucial feature. Since it was really the only traditional functionality that the radically new iPhone had. But just like the tradition of skeuomorphism could be abandoned with the release of iOS 7, the legacy of physical home buttons could finally be removed with the release of iPhone X. Allowing for a larger edge-to-edge display, more internal space, a faster swipe navigation system, and an effortless form of facial biometric security.